Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lessons from an Anti-Normal Life

In another life, I worked with homeless, mentally-ill adults. I was incredibly young, naive, and idealistic. It was a great on-the-job learning experience for me, and my clients became some of the best teachers I've ever had.

I've carried the stories of these clients close to my heart for the past ten years. One client's story has been much on my mind lately. His name was Scott, and he suffered from schizophrenia. We were peers in that we were both in our early 20s, from white, middle-class backgrounds, but our lives could not have been more different. He lived on the streets and was plagued by delusional thoughts telling him he was the devil, that he would die young, that he was a death-row inmate. I wanted him to try medication in the hope that the thoughts might quiet enough for him to hold a job, get his own apartment, and have a wonderful future ahead of him. He made excuse after excuse why he couldn't follow a medication regimen. Finally, after offering to bring him his medication nightly at the local shelter, he told me: "I do not want to be like you. I do not want a normal life. This (schizophrenia) is what sets me apart from other people. I'm different, and I want to stay different. Your life is fine for you, but this life is what I know, and I don't want change it."

After that conversation, my work with Scott became much easier. I no longer tried to foist a life on him that he didn't want, and instead focused on how he could live safely while still hearing dangerous thoughts. He explained to me that when thoughts come to him about dying young or being the devil, he thinks, "I know they're not true, but they're still happening."

Scott's ideas about dangerous thoughts have stayed with me. I often catch myself having thoughts that "I know are not true, but they're still happening." My mind especially likes to blow things out of proportion when I'm feeling tired, stressed, or unhappy.

I like Scott's way of thinking about thoughts that may visit us from time to time. It seems a fruitless enterprise to cease all negative ideas from entering our thought space. But Scott's way of coping allows us to acknowledge the presence of these thoughts while denying them validation. His willingness to be set apart, to live an anti-"normal life" has taught me something about living my own "normal" one.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Seeds of Compassion

The Dalai Lama is coming to Seattle as part of the Seeds of Compassion Conference. While tickets for his appearances ran out months ago, there are a number of first-come-first-served panel discussions that might interest those of you in the Seattle area. Speakers include relationship guru John Gottman and our family's much loved pediatrician Dr. Ben Danielson. Highly recommended!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Penny Simkin Empowers Women to Birth Their Way

Penny Simkin's rise to Childbirth Guru status was featured in this article. I love her philosophy on being centered in the mother's experience of birth and the power women harness in being present through their birth experiences. Too many births, in my opinion, have the childbirth professionals' experiences at the fore. We are so fortunate here in Seattle to have such a fantastic resource in Penny Simkin.